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Tips for a Smooth Transition
Tips for a Smooth Transition
Whizbang is a great word to describe the manifold powers of the Web to assist lawyers with their marketing. For many lawyers, though, the Web’s powers can seem so overwhelming that they only stick a toe in the water instead of embracing all the extraordinary tools afforded by the electronic era. Here are some things you should be doing to use e-marketing to the fullest.
Let us inspire you. Studies have shown that spending just five hours a week on marketing of all kinds can raise your annual income by $37,000. Spend more time, make more oney. And the results can be like a snowball rolling down a hill—have a bigger client base, get more referrals and a more constant level of work. Research by Thomson Findlaw found that 56 percent of consumers needed a lawyer in the past two years. Plus, many of those consumers had a need for multiple legal services during those same two years.
So how do you reach these folks? Lawyers have traditionally relied on Yellow Pages ads, networking in the community and among fellow lawyers, and sometimes newspaper ads or articles in legal publications. If this is what you’re doing, exclusively at least, it’s time to think again. The action has moved online. And if you want to appeal to those folks who are online—which, as we all know, is an ever-increasing majority—you too must be online. And as powerfully as possible.
Here are tools and tactics to help you get the most whizbang for your e-marketing bucks.
Without question, the place to start in e-marketing is by having a good up-to-date Web site. It is common today for lawyers to report that more than 20 percent of their business comes directly from the Internet. If you factor out repeat business, lawyers are reporting that more than 50 percent of the remainder of their clients have visited their sites after seeing a print ad, hearing about them from a friend, being referred by another attorney, reading an article they wrote, seeing them lecture or so forth. People go to Web sites to find directions to law offices, to see a photo of their prospective lawyer and, most importantly, to see if they feel that this lawyer has the expertise to serve them effectively.
How well does your site stack up? Clearly, if you have no Web site at all, you’ve got work to do. Ditto if you don’t have your own domain name. Clients are increasingly Web-savvy, and no one wants to do business with firstname.lastname@example.org. (She can’t possibly be a “real” or a “respected” lawyer, people think, if she doesn’t have her own domain!) For the bargain price of $99.95, you can buy your domain for five years at www.networksolu tions.com (our preference simply because we can always reach a human being if there’s a problem). You can buy them even cheaper from other domain name registrars (many lawyers use www.godaddy.com), but you may not find the service as first-class as Network Solutions.
How do you go about designing an effective Web site? Rule number one: Use a pro. Web sites need to be tested against all commonly used browsers and there are many tricks and tips that an amateur won’t be aware of. Rule number two: Design for Google. Although the stats vary, roughly 75 percent of those online use Google for searching. As a fringe benefit, if you design for Google, you’ll do fine by most of the other search engines as well.
The trick, of course, is designing well for Google. The infamous Google algorithm, which determines how well sites show up on Google, is guarded with the same fervor as the recipe for Coke. Worse yet, the algorithm changes, since those who would like to “cheat the system” (putting white keywords on white text was a classic in the old days) must be thwarted. Google does a credible job of catching the cheats, so our advice is to do what we did: Create a site that is wholly honest, broad and deep in good content specific to what you do.
A word here about search engine optimization (SEO) companies. There are credible companies but there are also a lot of snake oil salesmen. Beware of any promise that you can be number one on Google for a price. First, you should worry about the company trying to cheat to get that result, and second, you should worry that you are throwing your money down a rat hole. Good SEO companies (and some Web design companies do SEO as well) will let you know that this is an ongoing process. If all you do is wine importation law or bicycle head injuries, you might stand a good chance of coming up tops in the rankings because you have a real niche practice. But if you’re a divorce lawyer, a personal injury lawyer or a business lawyer, forget it. There are too many of you out there.
Remember that most folks looking for a lawyer search by two things: location and area of law. Your site should reflect those things in multiple locations, but most notably on the home page. People used to try to “stack” those sorts of keywords (also known as metatags) in the source code of the Web site. Hence, Google now ignores metatags when it ranks sites.
So what does Google like? We don’t pretend to know the exact specifics or the precise order, but most experts agree that the following are very important:
It’s not just Google you have to design for, of course. Who are your potential clients? If your target prospect is Joe Sixpack, you need to talk directly to him. Perhaps you have the boldface text “ARE YOU IN TROUBLE WITH THE LAW? WE CAN HELP,” along with a picture of a man being handcuffed. You are now talking directly to Joe—and his family. On the other hand, if you are marketing to corporate executives, you need a “Brooks Brothers” kind of site. Mind you, don’t think gavels and law books. That’s old hat and doesn’t tell anyone anything. Think creatively, use your imagination, and stretch your use of the English language and photos to say something new.
In addition, you have to offer things on your Web site that folks want, such as a portfolio about your services, firm newsletters, white papers, links to related resources and other types of reference materials that could be useful to them. Your site should also offer a way for prospects to contact you with a description of their problems, and it should have a map and directions to your office. (Don’t forget parking instructions if needed.)
But remember, no matter how spiffy your Web site looks today, all Web sites inevitably age. Site design and content is an ever-moving target so make sure you review your site periodically to keep it current and modern. As the old chestnut goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression!
Here are just a couple of ideas for keeping new content flowing to your site in ways that will also expand your e-marketing’s reach:
Now let’s rummage through some other Web-based business development tactics.
Networking in the old days was a royal pain. You had to get in the car to drive somewhere you probably didn’t want to be to shake hands with people, some of whom you quickly came to realize you didn’t want to know, in order to eat a rubber-chicken lunch listening to someone you didn’t want to hear talk about something you weren’t in the least interested in. And all this in the hope of making connections while burning away billable hours. Mercifully in the brave new world of the Web, networking is far easier. The following are a few of the best ways to build connections.
Possibly. Today blogs are easier than ever to set up, thanks to content managers like WordPress (www.word press.org), Blogger (www.blogger.com) and TypePad (www.typepad.com). However, you need to keep up with a blog and get entries made on a fairly frequent basis to keep the blog current. You also need to get the word out about your blog—often through other bloggers—and that can be a real effort. There are now, amazingly, more than 1,200 legal blogs. Another great stat: Over 50 percent of reporters surveyed in May 2007 said they had quoted at least one blog in the past week. Reporters research online, too—and if they find a current blog entry from you on the subject of interest, who knows, they just might call.
Once again, possibly. A podcast is basically a sound file (think digital radio broadcast) where you spend perhaps 20 to 30 minutes discussing a topic and then you can post that podcast on your Web site (and you can post it for free on iTunes as well). But while that doesn’t at first sound like a big investment of time, podcasts are more work than blogs, especially if you want to achieve good sound quality and edit the end-result to get rid of the “ers” and “ums” and “you knows.”
We suspect podcasts will remain in the hands of the geek lawyers for a while, until the technology is simplified as much as blog technology has been simplified.
Let’s talk for a moment about anti-marketing online. There seem to be a host of ways in which lawyers represent themselves poorly, and if you really want to embrace the Web’s power in your business development efforts, there are some gaffes you need to avoid.
Return on investment: three words that bedevil the lawyer trying to maximize the benefit of an insufficient number of marketing dollars. Make sure that every client who comes through the door fills out a client intake sheet that asks two pivotal questions:
The second question is critical because Web site visitation is so often the validation used after someone has seen your ad or heard about you from a friend. Just because they didn’t first learn of you from your site doesn’t mean that your site isn’t working well for you in a collateral fashion!
Make a simple chart to find out where your clients are coming from. Keep your dollars there for they are being soundly spent. If you are spending money somewhere and it is returning nothing, try putting those dollars somewhere else and see if you can do better. (See the sidebar for some tips.) Far too many lawyers scatter their dollars hither and yon without a plan and without ever figuring out what actually worked for them.
True, marketing takes work. But hey, it’s not all about luck. Or as Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I find that the harder I work, the luckier I get.”